Cervical cancer is a serious health problem, with nearly 500000 women developing the disease each year worldwide. Most cases occur in less developed countries where no effective screening systems are available. Risk factors include exposure to human papillomavirus, smoking, and immune-system dysfunction. Most women with early-stage tumours can be cured, although long-term morbidity from treatment is common. Results of randomised clinical trials have shown that for women with locally advanced cancers, chemoradiotherapy should be regarded as the standard of care; however, the applicability of this treatment to women in less developed countries remains largely untested. Many women with localised (stage IB) tumours even now receive various combinations of surgery and radiotherapy, despite unresolved concern about the morbidity of this approach compared with definitive radiotherapy or radical surgery. Treatment of recurrent cervical cancer remains largely ineffective. Quality of life should be taken into account in treatment of women with primary and recurrent cervical cancer.